the Disillusioned kid: Half Nelson
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Friday, October 21, 2005

Half Nelson

Apparently it's Trafalgar Day and people seem very excited. There's been loads of stuff going on, including some woman setting fire to something and talking about just how excited she was by the whole experience. Even Chelmsford got in on the act, although I can't help feeling a gazeebo hosting a DJ who would look more at home at a wedding reception didn't quite capture the stature of the event.

Anyway, not everyone is entirely enamoured with the whole shindig. Martin Kettle commented on the burdgeoning zeitgeist back in August and suggested a re-examination of Nelson and his place within British heritage might be in order. As he points out, Napoleon's explanation for his plans in the event of victory don't sound so bad:
I would have hastened over my flotilla with 200,000 men, landed as near Chatham as possible and proceeded direct to London, where I calculated to arrive in four days from the time of my landing. I would have proclaimed a republic and the abolition of the nobility and the house of peers, the distribution of the property of such of the latter as opposed me among my partisans, liberty, equality and the sovereignty of the people.
While the policy suggestions contained therein might not seem all that bad to a treasonous lefty like myself, there is, as Kettle notes, a major downside: "we would not have been offered the second half of Napoleon's scenario without the first. The reform would have been established, but it would only have been achieved at the point of a French bayonet." A situation which didn't go down so well in most of the countries where it was implemented. In fact, reading over the passage I couldn't avoid the images which sprung into my head of Bush and Blar proclaiming their glorious humanitarian mission in Iraq. The British would never have accepted Napoleon's rule, extrapolate from that what you will.

The analogy is limited of course: Napoleon lost. Despite what you might think given the recent hoopla, this defeat didn't end the Napoleonic Wars. In fact these continued on and off until Napoleon was forced to abdicate in 1815, ten years later. It was, however, instrumental is establishing British naval hegemony which Kettle asserts "makes Nelson not the man who saved the nation but the man who made the British empire possible." But of course, where Napoleon's empire was bad and evil and stuff, ours was nice and sunny and stuff and anybody who says differently is French.

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